DENVER – Fourteen, maybe 15 years ago, Leighton Smith was a beginner. Started golf on a whim, tried it for the Air Academy high school team, got the golf bug.
Hello it happens.
And here’s Leighton Smith these days: 2021 Colorado PGA Teacher of the Year running his own business (Leighton Smith Golf) who built a golf career he hadn’t thought possible 14 or 15 years ago.
“Like most high school kids, I probably had no idea what I was going to do,” says Smith.
How did it all happen? How did Keith Stilwell, a Loveland graduate, become Perry Park Golf Director? And Ali Wells, who paved golf paths as the first female professional to serve as executive director of a PGA section? Glad you asked. I wish someone had told me.
It’s the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs’ PGA Golf Management program, and if you know a child (or adult) who is passionate about golf and has a realistic idea of doing the PGA Tour, this is it Path. I know that you are out there. I was fifteen years old too.
This program combines a degree from the UCCS College of Business with a range of courses and internships that guarantee students graduation as PGA-certified Class A Professional. You learn finances in addition to lawn management. You’ll learn marketing alongside club technology. You’ll study accounting while you learn to run a tournament at TPC Sawgrass or Arrowhead.
Thereafter? Options extend to the fairways of Cypress Point, Bandon Dunes, Valhalla, Bear Dance, Ocean Reef, Medina, TPC San Antonio or The Broadmoor – all world class golf establishments where the UCCS PGM program has placed students for internships and graduates in full-time positions in recent years. Ask Tristen Fay about it. He’s the Head Pro in Fort Collins Country. Ask Jake O’Dell, the first student to graduate from the UCCS program and who is now the golf director at The Club at Flying Horse. Ask Matt Hauth, President of Seamus Golf. All graduates.
“If you’re looking to get into the golf business, a ‘PGM’ program like UCCS is the best way to get started,” said Stilwell, a 2010 graduate who directs Perry Park. “It does that by providing a network of other aspiring golf professionals as well as a large network of alums.”
If there’s a class golf tournament on Fridays, the bookkeeping test on Thursday seems doable.
“The best thing about UCCS is that you have a great degree in business administration,” said Stilwell. “And after doing this for so many years, I spend more time running a business than playing golf.”
How did a PGM program end up at UCCS? A good story there too. An eminent man named Paul Miller, who spent 43 years in science and was a longtime professor at the UCCS College of Business, founded the PGM program. He had a helping hand and a great idea from Joe Rallo, who arrived around 1999 as the new dean of the UCCS College of Business. Rallo came from Ferris State with a deep history of college golf. He figured if you can have a PGM program in Michigan, you can have a PGM program in Colorado. A local TV station showed up to interview Miller, believing the program’s mission was to attract Division I caliber players.
“We’re really looking for the people who love the people who play golf,” Miller said.
“It’s a simple business model: there is green grass and people walk on it and you make sure they want to come back,” he said.
What about the play element? Yes, you have to be a solid player. You don’t have to be a scratch. I was a Division I golfer, not a great one, and I promise those who actually get the PGA, LPGA, or Korn Ferry tours are ridiculous. You don’t miss 4 feet. I don’t want to fulfill any dreams here, but that’s what we’re talking about – 0.0006 percent of players make it on the tour, according to a study. Except for the data or being realistic, a smarter path to a golf career is a PGM program like the one at UCCS.
Candidates there must have a handicap of 12 and later pass a game skill test that requires a 4 state selected by the Colorado PGA and friend of the Eddie Ainsworth program.
“Without the Colorado PGA, we would not have the success we have had,” said Miller.
Yes, it all sounds like an advertisement, and it is. It’s a tough job market out there. Think of all those expensive but worthless college degrees, then consider how the UCCS PGM program provides “100 percent job placement” for graduates, according to Mark Bacheldor, the director. The program will send around 50 interns over the next year who, according to internship coordinator Jon Husby, will choose between 400 requests from golf courses. He’s also a UCCS PGM graduate and Army veteran, proof that it’s never too late. Summers and some semesters are spent on paid internships, where working in the pro shop can cost $ 18 an hour and tuition goes up to $ 80 an hour.
“Golf hungers for young talent. We just don’t have the young generation that is coming into the golf industry, ”said Bacheldor. “And I think a lot of the younger candidates don’t know about us.”
Hopefully they do now.
“You probably won’t make an exceptional amount of money, but you’ll be commuting to a golf course instead of a cabin,” Miller said.
Gosh, is it too late to go back to school?